Some Flowers are not Flowers

Update for 1 February 2010

Common fence plants adorning many little houses across much of the Tropics are the colourful and no-fuss bougainvillea. This is a woody vine that at times resembles a shrub and grows quite abundantly and needs little care – as it tends itself. It is also hardy against pests like borers and ants and so stays healthy all year round. Although it is a perennial – a plant that does not need any particular season to flower, and in India it prefers the cooler months of January to March to blossom, though it flowers all year round. And as you browse through neighbourhoods of most urban centres, you will not miss the magenta or red blooms and in more tonier neighbourhoods, the colours could be a riot ranging from flaming oranges, burnish yellows to angelic whites and even multicoloured bunched up blossoms that would shame the crepe paper festoons found at birthday parties. These are not aromatic flowers and most of the stems have thorns that keep away common herbivorous predators like goats, sheep or cattle. I too have bougainvilleas adorning our compound wall at home, and am lucky to also have one in a pot on my windowsill. All the plants are in bloom – but on closer inspection, what I thought and described as a flower is indeed not it. The flowers are tiny white tubes with a mere 2-3 millimeter wide five-petalled flower at the top. The colourful riot of three “petals” around each white tube flower is actually a modified leaf, called a bract. It helps attract the very important pollinating agents, and help the plant grow and survive. So next time you pass by the flowering blossom – try and take a closer look, while you admire the butterflies flitting about too.

Today started with fears from across the Atlantic and then spread to fears from the European side of the Atlantic – and like the bougainvilleas in bloom, the D Street was reddened by the negative SENSEX that not only opened negative – but was also 200 points down, until, some D Boyz with a little botany knowledge figured out the difference between petals and leaves, and helped the SENSEX get back on its feet. The abundance of new shiny cars on the roads near D Street also helped – so also the fact that lots of metal went into the manufacture of these vehicles. What could have been a continuing green day on D Street (last Friday ended 50 odd points in the green) actually ended flat on a bougainvillea petal – so instead of ending 0 points up or down, the SENSEX ended 2 points down at 16356.

Another pretty plant that mimics the bougainvillea with bracts is the very Christmassy poinsettia. The upper most leaves start off a deep scarlet surrounding the buds at the top looking like a flaming flower – to subsequently turn green once the flowers have been pollinated.


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